Gray Mountain: John Grisham

Posted: July 29, 2015 in Book Awards, Legal Eagles, review, Southern States, USA

gray mntnI was encouraged to keep up with John Grisham’s books again after reading posts about the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction on Bill Selnes impressive blog Mysteries and More. Bill is a lawyer in Saskatchewan and he seems to be the sort of legal representative we would all like to have on our side.

Gray Mountain is a novel that shouts out at the injustices in this world. The fact that these injustices are being perpetrated in one of the most advanced economies in the developed world, and a country with a constitution and legal system that should protect the poor from the tyranny of big business got me boiling. In the novel Big Coal aided by $900 an hour law firms crush poor miners affected by black lung, and destroy the beautiful forests of Appalachia.

Last night as I finished reading Gray Mountain I watched a television program about the poorest town in England, Jaywick on the Essex coast, where disadvantaged people many with health problems have seemingly been abandoned by central government. A once thriving holiday resort, Jaywick is now the nearest thing we have to a shanty town in England. 

thanks 2The very poor who live in Appalachia, and in Jaywick happen to be white, but they do have a lot in common with the African Americans of Mississippi, who feature in the brilliant book I began last night, The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson [more on that later].

In that they have no real political power or influence, and little money. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for these people.

Political rant suspended, on to the book. 

appalachiaSamantha Kofer, a New York lawyer, is a victim of the recession tossed into the street by Scully & Pershing, the biggest law firm in the world. Andy, a $2.8 million a year partner at the firm, explains the situation, a “furlough”.

” Here’s the deal. The firm keeps you under contract for the next twelve months, but you don’t get a paycheck.”

…..“You keep your health benefits , but only if you intern with a qualified non-profit.”

Samantha is competing with thousands of associates culled by their firms, rejection after rejection follows and then number nine on her list, Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, run by Mattie Wyatt offers her an interview and then a position. Brady is a very different world from New York’s rat race.

“Well dear, here at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, we love our clients and they love us.”

Samantha meets up with Mattie’s nephew Donovan Gray, young handsome lawyer with a tragic past, and learns the harsh reality life of for the poor in Appalachia. Donovan is fighting the destruction of the mountains to get at the “black gold”, and battling mining companies to get meagre benefits for miners crippled by the debilitating black lung disease. It turns out to be dangerous work as Big Coal is quite prepared to use hired goons and well as ruthless lawyers to preserve their lucrative business. 

Gray Mountain another fine book from the master of legal fiction that is both an excellent holiday read, and a campaign on behalf of the beautiful mountains of Appalachia. 

I haven’t managed to save the world yet but I am making progress. My clients are poor people with no voice. They don’t expect me to work miracles and all efforts are greatly appreciated.   

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this, Norman, since I read Bill’s review of it. It really does sound like an excellent legal novel with some important things to say. Thanks for your fine review of it.

  2. Bill Selnes says:

    Norman: Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate them as a blogger and a lawyer. I admired your review which relates real life to Grisham’s fiction. It is a book to provoke thought and hopefully action.

    • Norman Price says:

      You are welcome Bill.
      Appalachia may be saved I hope so, but I am not so hopeful about Jaywick.
      The people of Jaywick seem to be a good community trying to make the best of very poor conditions. From the TV program there appears to be no rubbish collections, and the streets have no drainage, it is a dumping ground for those who have no voice.

      Meanwhile the left of centre Liberal Democratic Party, what is left of it after a disaster in the recent election, has come up with a team of new front bench spokespersons.

      This front bench contains eight Ruritanian Baronesses, more nobles than the Cabal government of Charles II. A group hardly likely to be able to contemplate the problems of ordinary people in Jaywick or anywhere else.

  3. Norman Price says:

    Thank you Margot. Bill’s was indeed an excellent review and I really approve of lawyers who fight for the rights of the poor. Unfortunately many will use any tactics in defending the indefensible, and not only in fiction.

  4. Kathy D. says:

    John Grisham is really a champion of poor people and others who have no voice. He is a terrific muckraker. This is an excellent book which is educational and, hopefully, provokes activism.
    Even though I follow the news about Big Coal, I didn’ t know about the mine owners’ conspiracy to deny dying miners Black Lung benefits.

    I’m not sure what Grisham wants the public to do, although I’m sure he is seeking to spur activism on behalf of the miners and their communities and to curtail the crimes of Big Coal owners. I also think this book is directed to Wall Street and other corporate lawyers and imploring them to leave these highly-paid, unmeaningful jobs and go throughout the country helping regular people in their legal struggles — and in so doing, have a meaningful, purposeful life.

    There were loose ends in this book, and I’m hoping that Grisham will write a sequel.

    Meanwhile, while waiting for the next book, I suggest reading his book “Sycamore Row,” which deals with racism in Mississippi, at the same time it’s full of interesting characters.

    I’ll look forward to your review of “The Secret of Magic,” and will add it to my TBR list, have read about it here, too.

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